Children of the Nkalagu Mine

Ani Kayode Somtochukwu


Today is the day we decide what to do with the Nkalagu mines. The sun is high in the sky, its grace beaming down on us, chasing our shadows as we dance round the quarry. Today is the day our voices rise from our throats and unite before the Union. The whole continent is watching. We know this; we know how dearly they hold us in their prayers. We are giddy with their love, our stomachs flutter with their affection.

Today history will be made. Today it will be decided, here in Nkalagu, if the Union becomes carbon negative this year. The Council of Republics is sending Nyambura themself to woo us the way a lover woos her sweetheart. Here in Nkalagu, we love Nyambura. We sing their name in songs. They are almost like a child of Nkalagu, guarded, too, the way the spirit of the quarry guards us.

We did not always have them. They were born in old Kenya, back when Nigeria still stood. It was after the Kenyan struggle broke out—after the people of the ECOWAS united in revolutionary struggle, birthing the United West African Republic—that we first heard of them, of their courage, and of their love. That was so long ago. Everyone in Africa loves Nyambura, and that is why the Council sends them. We hear it in the news: The Council has decided: the Chairman of the Standing Committee themself will be traveling to the Federated Republic of Biafra to address the people of Nkalagu.

We don’t mind. We want to see them, touch them, breathe the same air as them, and tell them we have watched them from the day the Kenyan workers gathered before the State House and forced the resignation of President Keter. We want to hear their presentation before we decide. Twice already we have debated amongst ourselves. This is no light matter. The quarry has come to be a part of us. It has fed us, sheltered us, strengthened us, given us a way to sustain ourselves, and a way to aid in the reconstruction of the Union of African Republics. After the Sahrawi people won their freedom, stretching the Union all the way north to Al Mahbes, it was limestone from this quarry that helped them build; it was the vehicle of our revolutionary love.

It has not always been kind. Its love is like that of God, sometimes brutal. The Ebe and Ora Rivers were for a time undrinkable; the Republic had to build taps that ran through every home in Nkalagu. The NIGERCEM factory that the quarry fed used to choke the air full of soot, until it was expropriated from Ibeto by the UWAR and refurbished. But all in all, this quarry has been good to us. Who are we without the light of the quarry? How will we remember? And what do we do with the mine? Everyone has suggestions.

We should let flowers bloom through its stony surfaces, one of us said.

No, it should be a museum, said another.

Mba, mba, mba. It should lay fallow as a testament to our contribution to the triumph of the pan-African revolution, yet another said.

But some among us do not want the mines to close. Why us? They ask. Why Nkalagu? Why not the Chad Basin? Why do the limestone mines of the Burkinabe Republic still ring with drills?

But we have all given something to build this union. We have found sisterhood in sacrifice. We sacrificed to see the colonial states fall into one revolutionary vanguard. We sacrificed to bring about the decade of decolonization. We remember it fondly, how old country by old country, Africa became more and more whole. And now Nkalagu must sacrifice again.

 

Today is the day we decide what to do with our quarry. We are used to deciding. We vote in our factories, our farms, our schools, our stores. We vote for the municipal council and we send representatives to the Provincial Government of Abakaliki. We send yet more representatives to the Parliament of the Federated Republic of Biafra, and then we vote to approve the representatives of Biafra to the Council of Republics, the supreme legislative body of the Union of African Republics.

There is a saying that here in the Union, people spend half their time voting even though there are no political parties in the election. But it only takes two days—days we cherish because back in old Nigeria, it did not matter what we thought. And now we must vote on this too. We start the morning like every other morning. We go to the factories or the farms or the office or our schools. We drive tractors through the soil and we wait for the rains. We make sure the farm’s books are balanced or we check that the electricity grid is stable. We walk to the store and get more milk or we collect the last kilos of our rice, which we couldn’t carry home the last time. We fill out our register and we make a mental note to buy coconut shavings. Or we make our bus routes throughout Nkalagu, all the way to Ogoja, and then make it back for the meeting.

The meeting arena is filled to the brim, the galleries teeming with eager people ready to make their decision permanent. Our delegates to the Council of Republics are here, and so is the Standing Committee of The Federated Republic of Biafra—all of them. They look scared of us; they are not sure which way we might vote. They speak to us, and they tell us Nkalagu will make history. They tell us all the peoples of the Union of African Republics will speak our names with love. And we stare blankly, like nothing they say can sway our minds.

The quarry union speaks. They have made peace any which way, they say. They are neutral. Many months ago, they voted to approve the resolution to close the quarry. By the slimmest of margins, yes, but the government of Biafra has always presented that resolution as air beneath their wings.

When Nyambura arrives, we cannot believe our eyes. They look shorter in person, more grounded, their eyes firm beneath their glasses. They start to apologize for arriving late, but before they can get their words out, the arena bursts into thunderous applause. They smile and bow slightly. Thank you, they say, and with that begin their presentation.

We are almost at the finish line. The African continent is at the precipice of a real environmental breakthrough. With this quarry and the NIGERCEM factory closed, we will become carbon negative. It was capitalism that led us into the climate catastrophe, and it is the socialist commitment of the African revolution that will pull us out. Carbon negative, can you imagine that? We can begin to remove the carbon sequestered in our atmosphere. You go to such great lengths to keep the Ebe and Ora Rivers free from pollution, and all that will be gone. The Council of Republics, the government of the Federated Republic of Biafra, the government of Abakaliki province, the Nkalagu municipal authority, we all strongly believes that this is the best road. But of course, we cannot speak for Nkalagu better than Nkalagu can speak for itself.

After they speak, there is silence. The managers begin to set up the voting machines and they scrape loudly against the tiled floor, leaving marks. There is one at every door. One by one, we file down and cast a vote. One way or the other, it is a vote we would have to defend to our children and our children’s children. Nyambura thanks us.

However this vote goes, they say, you have shown us love. You have given this Union the opportunity to flourish.

We thank them, shake their hand, and tell them we were proud of them. And then we go home and gather with our families to eat. Our children play high-tempo music on the home theater, and we tap our feet to the rhythm while our hearts sit in the pits of our stomachs.


Today is the day we decided what to do with the Nkalagu mines. And when we see the announcement of the results, there is grief in our hearts. This mine is a part of us and has been so for so long. But within that grief blooms pride. We hold each other with joy, watching Nyambura’s happiness through the television.

Thanks to the people of Nkalagu, The Union of African Republics will once again break new ground. This African revolution has yet again charted new territory towards the preservation of humanity.

Tonight, we sleep without anticipation. Tomorrow, we shall pass by the quarry on our way to work. We shall touch the rock and think to ourselves how beautifully sunny the day is. ♦

 

 


Ani Kayode Somtochukwu is a gay writer and Queer Liberation Activist who lives in Enugu, Nigeria. His work explores themes of queer identity, resistance and liberation in Africa. He is Chair of the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST9ja), a Pan-Africanist, socialist queer collective organizing towards queer liberation in Nigeria.